Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Myth of Multiple Paths to Victory

Gamers value board games that provide multiple paths to victory. A game with multiple paths to victory is one where more than one strategy may be successfully used during a game.

A game with a single path to victory is one in which a single strategy dominates. For instance, ....

Well, like ....

Um ....


I just went through the 265 games that I have rated on the Geek and couldn't find a single example. All I could find were games where there were no choices at all, such as Candyland.

In even the simplest games, such as Chinese Checkers, Sorry, or Connect Four, players generally have a choice between aggressive and defensive play styles, or some combination of both. You can play safely, trying to minimize the possibility of being hit by your opponent, or aggressively try to hit your opponent. Or, you can ignore your opponent altogether.

Whether victory is decided by the most points, most money, first player to reach the end, or last player remaining, the types of tactics in which you engage are determined by the strategic options you employ: slow, cautious, and steady, fast and risky, or aggressive and interfering.

In contrast, the games touted as having multiple paths to victory actually give less strategic options.

Why? Because no one can interfere with your gaining points. Someone can expend resources to block you off from one avenue, but you have a dozen other avenues still open. Interaction becomes far less important, except for limited short term annoyances that you are able to do while maximizing your gain, anyway.

The game becomes, perforce, more tactical, and less strategic, which I admit is highly counter-intuitive. The game becomes less interactive and more like mutual solitaire.

For example, when the winner of the game is the one with the most points, and the only way to get points is to gain doohickeys, your options are to gain the doohickeys recklessly, gain them cautiously, work to prevent your opponent from doing so, or some combination.

In contrast, when you can gain points either by a) gaining doohickeys, b) gaining sets, c) retaining money, d) scoring interim positions, or e) being first to do hoozitz in any of seven territories, your strategic options decline.

You can either maximize your points each round by hill climbing, or plan to maximize your points over several rounds by investing and then reaping. And that's it, really.

If you extol games with "multiple paths to victory", you are really extolling games with more tactics and less strategy. More calculation and less interaction. More planning and less instinct.

Which is great, if that's what you like.

Game News

First of all, lay off Britney Spears already, please. It was funny when she was a dope, and titillating when she showed her privates, but making fun of someone suffering from a mental breakdown is inexcusable. I mention this because of another jab at her in the form of a fake board game Britopoly, which is simply mean, not funny.

Lost level pleads with game designers to make their in-game penalties something that creates more of a challenge, and not something that simply makes the game less fun to play.

Gilad Yarnitzky, a fellow Israeli board gamer, is doing a series on board gaming in Israel on Board Game News. Speaking of Board Game News, Eric Martin, the new editor of Board Game News, has just opened up free guest membership to those who want to comment on the site. BGN is the second best stop for board games on the Internet, after Board Game Geek.

The Wall Street Journal talks about Hasbro's openness to new board games, but I don't have registration access to the site. If anyone can send me the complete article, I'd be much obliged. Update: here it is in full. (via Eric)

d21 talks about the down side of Settlers becoming a huge success if it moves to XBox, since the lure of monetary gain might take over the fledgling board game design world.

The Human Side of Computer Games Dept

Jeff Orkin is hosting an open game development process, to see what happens if games are designed from the bottom up according to what players actually wish to do, in The Restaurant Game.

David Sirlin describes how to design games that are both fun to play and also accomplish useful things as a side effect.

Your Assistance is Required Dept

Nigeria is trying to up its chess performance at the next Africa Games, and is getting a boost from a partnership with grandmaster of England, Nigel Short. Nigel Short is rumored to have responded to an email from one of their players asking him to assist in winning Ten Milion Chess Games (10,000,000) if he deposits a mere Seven Hundred and Fifty chess games into the Nigerian chess player's track record.


No comments: